On Being “Loved”

I saw this today and agreed with most of it, except for the line “Love yourself enough to hold the people who harm you accountable for their words and actions.” This could lead people down a dark road of retribution, seeking some kind of apology that will probably never come, dependent as it is on the offender having a conscience.  It’s more powerful to not care about the opinions of others so much that they are unable to hurt you.

Many believe that strength is thinking “I know they’re going to love me” but a greater strength is thinking “I’m okay if they don’t.”

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The Touch of the Master’s Hand (poem)

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‘Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer
      Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
      But held it up with a smile.
“What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried,
    “Who’ll start the bidding for me?”
“A dollar, a dollar. Then two! Only two?
      Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?”

“Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice;
      Going for three…” But no,
From the room, far back, a grey-haired man
      Came forward and picked up the bow;
Then wiping the dust from the old violin,
      And tightening the loosened strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet,
      As a caroling angel sings.

The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
      With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said: “What am I bid for the old violin?”
      And he held it up with the bow.
“A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two?
      Two thousand! And who’ll make it three?
Three thousand, once; three thousand, twice,
    And going and gone,” said he.

The people cheered, but some of them cried,
    “We do not quite understand.
What changed its worth?” Swift came the reply:
    “The touch of the Master’s hand.”
And many a man with life out of tune,
      And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd
      Much like the old violin.

A “mess of pottage,” a glass of wine,
    A game — and he travels on.
He is “going” once, and “going” twice,
    He’s “going” and almost “gone.”
But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
    Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
    By the touch of the Master’s hand.

– Myra Brooks Welch
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From old poetry dot com –
Probably best known for the poem “The Master’s Hand” written in 1921, Myra Brooks Welch was born in the late 19th Century in America. Thanks to one of our Oldpoetry readers we believe she was born in Illinois 1878, daughter of John Brooks,and she married Otis Welch. She was a resident of La Verne, California. As a youngster her special joy was playing the organ but this was denied her in later life as she suffered badly from arthritis and spent much of her time in a wheelchair. She wrote with an inverted pencil in each of her gnarled hands and would pick out the words on a type writer. She said that the joy of her writing outweighed the pain of her efforts.

What Happened to Peace and Love?

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There’s no way to say any of the following without sounding like a crotchety old carbunkle, but for all you youngsters today who may not know it, back in the 60’s and 70’s, there was a real, serious, dedicated movement that centered around coming together as friends, seeing beyond differences to the heart and soul, ending war once and for all, etc.
We have gradually lost sight of that goal as time has passed. It’s like we’re all standing among the ruins of a half-built Utopia without the will or ability to complete it. In fact, many people seem to be determined to widen political/religious/social/racial divisions and wipe out everything not exactly like themselves. (Exactly what the Islamic terrorists are guilty of, ironically.)
I was a kid in the 60’s, but I was befriended by a group of hippies, and let me tell you, they lived their philosophies. They made me feel like a prince at a time when I felt pretty small and insignificant. I told that story in Chicken Soup for the Soul’s book called Random Acts of Kindness.
I’m not saying we should all become hippies, or even that they were right about everything. For instance, I don’t respect the fact that they wanted to put limits on everything except their own behavior. But what can’t be questioned is their level of commitment to peace and love. I wonder if we’ll ever get back to that ideal of seeking understanding and compassion. We can’t have anything unless we first actually want it, and wanting is useless without action. In other words, if we don’t define what we want, there’s no way to ever achieve it.
There will always be evil and naked aggression that needs to be squashed by non-pacifists. (ISIS, Al Quaeda, the Taliban, Nazi’s, fascists, etc.) But it’s equally and maybe even more brave to seek peace in our daily lives with people we have nothing in common with, to try to connect as human beings and see past (or not even notice at all) our racial/sexual/economic/educational/religious divisions, and all the other ways we divide ourselves from others. After all, the first requirement for doing evil to another is to think of them as something separate from ourselves, or even non-human. That’s why the first thing Hitler and every tyrant like him did to win over the mindless masses was to label the group he wanted to persecute as “vermin” that needed to be exterminated. This is how he convinced men who weren’t born killers to murder women and children. 
Every measure of peace must be attempted before breaking out the guns, or fists. At least the hippies were brave enough to try, you know?
Here are a few songs from back in the day that illustrate my point. Feel free to message me with your favorite.
Why Can’t We Be Friends – War
Stop Children What’s That Sound – Buffalo Springfield
Love is the Answer – England Dan and John Ford Coley
Everyday People – Sly and the Family Stone
Lean on Me – Bill Withers
Eve of Destruction – Barry McGuire
The Times They Are a-Changin’ – Bob Dylan
Blowin’ in the Wind – Peter, Paul & Mary 
Give Peace a Chance – John Lennon
Some Mother’s Son – The Kinks
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An Introduction to Karma

(Warning: Scary images.)

My parents loved going to the movies. It was like their church. They particularly liked horror movies. This love of voluntarily terrifying oneself was passed along to my brother and I. You see, we were taken to most of those movies . . . as children.

I suppose it would be called a “parenting fail” these days, but we loved it. Nothing was more fun than sitting on swings in the playground at the base of a forty-foot high drive-in movie theatre screen, stuffing our faces with hot dogs, popcorn and Milk Duds, and watching Dracula get a wooden stake pounded into his chest. Man, what a rush! We were too young to know or care about the effects such viewing had on our prepubescent minds. Oh, sure – we would get the Heebie-Jeebie’s back home when we had to walk through the hall at night to go to the bathroom, but that was about it, until one night.

In an amazing feat of poor judgment, my father decided my brother, at thirteen years old, was ready to see the granddaddy of all horror films, The Exorcist. I wanted to go but I was only ten. It would be three years before I was worldly enough to see possessed children vomiting into the mouths of priests.

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My brother left the house that night eager and rosy-cheeked, and returned gaunt and pale. I asked him how the movie was but he just walked by me silently. My mom asked my dad what was wrong with him. He said, “Ah, don’t worry about it. Kids are resilient.”

After a week or so, he returned to normal and started talking again. Our parents went to a party and left us alone. We decided to play hide-and-seek. He went upstairs to count and I hid behind our enormous Magnavox television set. And not just behind the TV, but behind thick curtains behind the TV. Of course, the TV was on. It was always on.

In the days before flat screens, TV’s were monstrous things with ventilation hole-riddled, pressboard panels at the back that heat belched out of like dragon’s breath. Well, it turned out to be the best hiding place I had ever chosen because my brother couldn’t find me for at least an hour. He actually looked behind the TV but didn’t find me because I was such a waif of a child (his nickname for me then was “Pale and Frail”) and I was making myself flat like an Egyptian hieroglyph behind the curtain. Exasperated, he finally decided to pull back the curtain. When he saw me, I was a sweaty wreck, badly dehydrated and on the verge of heat exhaustion. The excitement of being discovered made me laugh. It seemed perfectly innocent to me, but to him, still reeling psychologically from The Exorcist, I looked and sounded like a small, demented demon. I’m not sure what I looked like exactly, but I think this is pretty much what he saw.

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To my surprise, he screamed, but not just any scream. It was one of those primal screams only accessible when the mind is pushed to some heretofore unexplored extremity. He turned and ran, still screaming.

Now, the right thing to do would have been to go to him and reassure him that I was still his little brother – but where’s the fun in that? Every mean thing he had ever said or done to me (and there were plenty) rushed through my mind.

“An opportunity like this might never come again,” I thought. “We’ll see who the pale and frail one is!”

I chased him around the house screaming maniacally and scratching his back until he locked himself in the bathroom and begged me to leave him alone.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you revenge doesn’t feel good. It was awesome. For the rest of the week, I glared at him like one of the tots from Village of the Damned until he asked our parents to make me stop.

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I was heady with my newfound sense of power. However, I was about to be introduced to another kind of power – KARMA.

A few days later, in yet another astounding demonstration of irresponsibility, my parents decided it would be a good idea to let both of us watch The Legend of Lizzie Borden starring Elizabeth Montgomery. Though already quite the horror aficionado for a ten-year old, I found this movie particularly disturbing, for two reasons – she looked remarkably like my mother, and I was used to watching Elizabeth Montgomery play the sweet and perky Samantha in the TV show Bewitched.

I lay in bed that night wide awake, unable to stop hearing a song in the movie, sung eerily by children – “Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.”

Man, oh man. Sleep was completely out of the question. I was afraid to blink. I lay there for hours until exhaustion finally overtook me. I awoke in the middle of the night staring at the wall. I rolled over to get more comfortable and momentarily opened my eyes. When I closed my eyes again, I realized I had just seen the silhouette of a woman standing by my bed, the edges of her hair and nightgown illuminated by pale moonlight from the window.

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“Dear God,” I thought, “Lizzie Borden is in my room.”

I was too scared to open my eyes again. I hadn’t looked at her long enough to see her hands but I was certain an axe dripping with blood was in one of them, an axe she was about to give me forty-two whacks with. I turned to the wall again, hoping she might leave if she thought I was sleeping. She didn’t. I could hear her breathing. I let out one of those screams only dogs can hear and pulled my blanket over my head because, as every child knows, a blanket can withstand any attack.

“Ah, who am I kidding?” I thought, “It’s a blanket! It can’t stop an axe!” My mind raced, “I’m a goner! And still so young! How did she get out of the TV? I wonder if she got my parents yet. Oh, just whack me already and get it over with, Lizzie! Whack away! Why are you just standing there? God, if you care about me at all, make her leave!”

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I started reciting every prayer I knew – “getting right with God” as they say – when a hand touched my shoulder. I screamed. Then Lizzie screamed! I screamed again. She screamed again, too. I started to scream a third time, then thought, “Wait a minute. Why is Lizzie screaming? Axe murderesses don’t scream!”

I reached for the light on my bedside table and pulled the chain. It was my mom. Seems my dear mumsy had chosen that night, of all nights, to stand by her little boy’s bed and watch him sleep. It should have been a tender moment, but it was the longest, most horrifying minute of my life, before or since.

Once her heartrate slowed down and I realized I wasn’t going to be chopped up, we both had a good laugh about it. My dad did, too, as I slept between them in their bed that night, and the next night, and for the next two weeks.

 

For the Children

Like everyone else in America, I’ve been thoroughly disgusted and saddened by the couple who starved, tortured and abused their thirteen children for over a decade. I won’t mention their names because I think anyone who commits such atrocities should not be awarded fame, however twisted, after they’re caught. They even smiled at each other in court yesterday when the judge told them they couldn’t talk to their children for three years. Thankfully, it looks like they’ll spend the rest of their miserable lives in prison.

As a parent of two daughters, it’s unfathomable to me how not only one but two parents can do the things they did. I feel guilty when I raise my voice to my girls even a little.

When my first daughter was born six years ago, I wrote and sang 15 songs on a CD in her honor called Great Big World. Of course, the songs apply to both my girls now. I’m working on a second CD for both of them.

One of the tracks is below. I hope it provides a little therapy to anyone as troubled as I am by all the child abuse stories we hear about these days. I know I need regular therapy, and it usually comes in the form of music.

This song is also for all the children unfortunate enough to be born to parents who don’t appreciate the miraculous blessings that they are.

The Broad and Narrow Way

In my father’s memoir, The Other Belfast – An Irish Youth, he wrote about a painting his grandmother had on the wall of her bedroom in her cottage. It showed what the Bible calls “the broad and narrow way” – two roads, a wide one with all the easy to find sins of the world, loaded with sinners engaged in all kinds of debauchery, and a narrow one with one figure, walking uphill toward a light. My father said he studied that painting until every detail of it was seared into his mind. I have searched the internet for the image. It may have been this one –

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Here’s a more modern one – 

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As much as I love the power of the written word – the right words in the right order – I’m not sure which shapes the heart and mind more – words or images. Imagery, film in particular, may be gaining the upper hand in the modern world, as more people watch movies than read books. 

When I was in elementary school, police officers and others came to our school to teach us the evils of drug use. In a pamphlet they handed out, there was a healthy-looking kid who didn’t use drugs and a freaked-out, twitchy one who did. This was one of the pages from it –

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That did the trick with me. I never wanted to become the twitchy kid hiding in the old box.

I had the added emphasis of watching my brother go down the road of addiction. My earliest memory of discovering his problem was when I was ten years old and he was thirteen. I was skateboarding with some friends at our elementary school and one of them said, “Hey, isn’t that your brother?” I looked and saw him running down the sidewalk on the other side of the chain link fence, flapping his arms and trying to fly. I called him and he came running over with a wild look in his eyes. He said, “Hey, little brother, want to try some of these?” He held out a handful of pills. He was my brother but not my brother. I said no and he ran off down he street, still trying to fly. 

We used to play baseball and frisbee in the street. That stopped when the drugs started. I became a potential “fink” (tattletale) to him and his friends. In fact, he began to torture me psychologically and physically when my parents weren’t around. He hadn’t just changed. He became sadistic.

A few years after the day he offered me drugs, I had a dream that he and I were walking in an unfamiliar part of town. He wanted to go down an alley. I told him it was too dark and that we should go around. He turned down the alley and said, “Come on. It will be fine.” I yelled after him, begging him to stay, warning him that something bad was going to happen, until he disappeared into the darkness.

As time passed, he listened to bands like Korn and Cannibal Corpse. I listened to David Wilcox and The Beach Boys. Still trying to get him out of that dark alley, I warned him that the messages in music, like chants, are embedded into the psyche because of their melodic and repetitive nature. He laughed and said, “This music is what I loved when I was young. If I started listening to Air Supply or Neil Sedaka, I would age rapidly and die.” 

He kept walking down that alley until he died of a drug overdose at the age of 37.  

I’m still on the narrow road. I still medicate myself with music with positive messages, martial arts (hitting bags instead of people), singing, trying to absorb the beauty and innocence of my children, and, of course, writing.

I still seek God. I hope He’s at the end of this narrow path. And I hope my brother is with Him.

 

Just One Yes

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It’s hard not to get discouraged sometimes, but remember, all it takes is one “yes” to put you on the road to a better place.

Dr. Seuss was rejected by every major publisher of his day and went home with his first manuscript And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. He got together for lunch with a friend and told him how disappointed he was that nobody wanted his book. His friend had just become an agent with a local publisher a day earlier. He told him he’d run it by his boss. The rest is – well, you know.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

– Calvin Coolidge