I’ve been reading a lot about generosity in preparation for leading a retreat on that subject this weekend. The books have ranged from informative (The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose) to challenging (The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty) to inspiring (More or Less: Choosing a Life Style of Excessive Generosity). Each of them has invited me to re-evaluate the way we live. And the way we give.
Christian Smith and Hillary Davidson, researchers at Notre Dame, identify various types of generosity: Giving money, volunteering, neighborly generosity (watching someone’s house when they’re away, etc) and relational generosity (being generous within one’s extended family). They found that generous Americans experienced more health, happiness, purpose in life and sense of well-being. Despite this, they also found a surprisingly high percentage of ungenerous Americans who live in fear of not having enough for themselves down the road. Continue reading
It’s snowing again in Boston. We seem to have a big storm every week and no warm weather in between for the snow to melt. So, you might wonder, why would I cancel a scheduled trip to Florida for a conference in the middle of it?
It was a hard decision for me. I grew up in a family where responsibility was the main virtue stressed. That notion was strongly reinforced by Catholic education in the 1950s. Doing what I say I’m going to do, doing what I’m supposed to do, living up to my responsibilities were primary. Hence, canceling a commitment goes against the grain.
In many ways, it’s a virtue that’s helped me in uncountable ways. It helped with parenting. It gave me a good work ethic and let me plow ahead through graduate school despite multiple difficulties.
It’s only as I’ve aged that I’ve seen it as a liability as well as an asset. Growing up, I don’t remember any discussion of these questions: To whom am I responsible? For what? How does that responsibility change over a lifetime? And how do I sort conflicting responsibilities? The answers to those questions make all the difference in whether responsibility works for good or ill. Continue reading
Housemate Pan Aobo presents the lunch he prepared for my birthday and his end-of-semester
Last week I turned 66. That’s the first year of collecting social security. According to some researchers it falls within the youth of old age. It’s a time when friends and relatives seem to be dying at a faster and faster rate. Still, I don’t feel old. On my birthday I found myself doing a curious mix of looking back and looking forward.
Looking back, I was caught up in a stream of gratitude both wide and deep for all the people who’ve given me life and shaped me. It stretched back as far as my grandparents and ran forward through parents, siblings, the best husband I could ever have, our kids, grandkids and friends and mentors. It ran all the way forward to Aobo, one of the newer residents of our house who made me a special birthday lunch. Even the really hard times looked different as I reflected on them. They were just part of the journey, parts that have taught me things that have now worked for my good and sometimes the good of other people. Continue reading
One of my big fears about moving to BHFH was that it would be harder for us to have people visit, hang out, feel at home. If Bill and I had a mission statement for our marriage, providing hospitality would be front and center. I hoped that people we love would feel comfortable hanging out here, but I didn’t know. I hoped that our housemates would be comfortable with our family and friends, but, again. I didn’t know. Not everyone appreciates having a rambunctious 21 month old or people they don’t know invading their space.
Mostly it’s worked out well. Clearly our son-in-law and granddaughter feel comfortable enough in our home to fall asleep in the library shared by all 21 residents. Leila loves to ride the elevator, play hide and seek around the dining room and explore all the different staircases. She has a place she prefers to sit at the dining room table and when we do a round of names (when we have guests at dinner) she usually pipes up with “LEILA!” Our house mates have been patient with her noise and our clear adoration of her. One of the big pluses for her is having a whole new set of aunts and uncles whose names she is gradually learning, sort of. Clarissa is known as Issa and Ryan is Iyan. Continue reading
Rev. Jerry Singer at the 50th anniversary of his ordination, June 2, 2013, Nativity Church, Detroit
This has been a sad few days. As we were leaving church Sunday morning, Bill checked his email and discovered that yet another friend had died. Jerry Singer was the pastor of our best ever church community. He was also a good friend.
Over the last several years I’ve lost my mother, my only two aunts, three cousins, three important mentors (now four) and several friends. While I understand that death is part of life and on one level am not afraid of it, I still finding it shocking. How can it be that this person who was so full of life is no longer there? Where did they go?
And maybe more important, what of them is left? What is their legacy? How might I help keep it alive and pass it on?
Living at BHFH, we’re focused on what it takes to build a strong and enjoyable community. I wish my fellow housies had had a chance to witness Jerry’s community building in action. He knew everyone in the parish by name. Whenever someone new showed up at Sunday Mass he greeted them before the service, asked their name and before Mass started introduced them to the community. Unlike many pastors, he shared power easily, often being guided by the congregation rather than imposing his own opinions. Continue reading
One of my favorite happy places is only a short walk from where we live. The Boston Public Garden lifts me up no matter what state I’m in. I’m amazed at the number of leaves that are still left and the way the light plays with them and the bare branches.
Someone once said that nature is God’s first revelation of God’s self. I believe it.
Nothing quite like being jolted out of bed early in the morning by a fire alarm instead of my usual alarm. Especially in a big old house in a city where there have been numerous bad fires in big old houses. Once I was fully awake I was pretty sure it was a false alarm. We’ve had a few of those lately because something is out of kilter with our alarm system. Still, the idea of heading outside into the 20 degree weather in my pjs did not sound like fun.
But, as I ran into sleepy housemates in the hall something interesting happened. Annoyance turned into amusement. We all looked pretty funny. It was a false alarm. Sharing the irritating experience took some of the sting out of it. Pretty nice to have laughter instead of the whining I might have otherwise engaged in. One more plus of living in community.
When we moved to Boston a year ago I had no intention of retiring. I thought I would cobble together some work and do some writing. To an extent I’ve done that, but it’s way less work and way less writing than I imagined. And, if you look at the amount of money I’ve earned, you’d be tempted to say I’ve retired.
I have also given myself lots of free time. I’ve enjoyed reading more books, exploring a new city, making new friends, becoming a part of a community, traveling extensively and having time to attend to the neglected parts of my life like exercise. So, it’s tempting to call it a sabbatical. But can it be a sabbatical if I don’t have a job to go back to?
Ok, I admit it. For the most part I am a slug. I’ve never been athletic. My favorite hobbies include activities like reading, gardening, cooking, knitting and crafts. I do like to be out in nature, so hiking and biking have appeal. Gyms generally make me feel like a hamster in a cage and I can only get through the experience by dosing myself liberally with my favorite music.
As a younger person raising children I was forced into a certain level of activity. In my 65th year it was another story. Florida’s heat and humidity amplified my tendency to avoid moving.
Current research links a sedentary lifestyle to a host of medical conditions that only worsen with age. Mental acuity as one ages also appears linked to physical activity.
I became worried that I would age more quickly if I didn’t make some lifestyle changes. But, slug that I am, lifestyle changes don’t come easily. Sometimes I have to trick myself into them. Continue reading
I sometimes wonder if my love of books could be an addiction of sorts. I can get high just walking into a bookstore. When we downsized from a four bedroom house to a room in this community, books were among the most difficult things for me to let go of – and I did let go of boxes of them. Despite this, books are the major clutter in our room now.
I once met a person who claimed to have read ninety per cent of the books she owned. I never imagined such a thing was possible. I don’t think I’ve read more than 50% of the books I own, but that doesn’t stop me from acquiring more. The Kindle app is not my friend when it comes to this. The ability to download books that don’t take up room on the shelf is sometimes too great a temptation to resist.
And yet, when I think of the experiences books and reading have led me into, I don’t really want to put a negative label on my love of them. As a shy child in an alcoholic family, trips to the library were pure joy. The only cloud was that I couldn’t check out more books than I could carry. Books let me imagine different worlds than the one in which I lived. Continue reading