Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hillary's gift

Hillary Clinton, in accepting her victory in the Pennsylvania primary, said, “This has been a historic race and I commend Senator Obama and his supporters tonight. We are, in many ways, all on this journey together to create an America that embraces every last one of us. The women in their nineties who tell me they were born before women could vote and they're hopeful of seeing a woman in the White House. The mothers and fathers at my events, who lift their little girls on their shoulders and whisper in their ears, ‘see, you can be anything you want.’"

As I heard Hillary speak, my thoughts went back more than fifty years ago when I was a young girl around twelve or thirteen. I remember announcing to my mother, “I have decided, when I grow up, that I want to be a pediatrician.”

My mother looked at me, and without hesitation, she clicked her tongue to the roof of her mouth, making a sharp “tsk” noise that I had become accustomed to, and said, “Don’t be ridiculous.”

Back in the fifties, it was a rather ridiculous statement from a young girl growing up in the suburbs of Scarsdale, New York. My mother had modeled what she expected from her three daughters. She was a housewife. That meant she was in charge of keeping the household running smoothly. But Margaret was our “housekeeper;” she was rather ubiquitous, and, as I recall, even had her “maid’s quarters” where she stayed. So I am not certain just what my mother did to “keep the house.” I know she was there for her four children- driving us to dancing class, attending our ballet recitals, being a girl scout troop mother, and making sure our Stride-rite shoes fit us perfectly. She was here for my father – making sure he had his coffee and two minute boiled egg for breakfast, served in an egg cup with two pieces of buttered toast. She had the car running and warmed at 7:45 sharp to drive him to the train station to catch the 8:02 to New York City where he worked on Wall Street in order to provide well for his family. I never asked her what she did while we were in school, though I know she was active with the Junior League, had lunch at the golf club with her friends, and bowled regularly, once a week.

I was expected to do well in school; it was a given that I would attend college. But education was a way to make me more eligible, more attractive. The goal for my future was to find a handsome man with good genes and a lucrative career who would buy me a nice house in suburbia and give me wise and healthy children – and if I took proper care of all that was given to me, I would find the ultimate meaning of my life.

-A pediatrician? “Don’t be ridiculous.”

I did go to college, but the suburban life eluded me. I married a teacher, and found myself following my three sons down the hall of their Montessori school and magically breathing in the education of young children which, unbeknownst to me, became my career.

I never had a daughter, but when Hillary spoke those words, I pictured young parents embracing their young little girls and with such conviction, without any hint of a “tsk”, with laughter in their voices saying, “see, you can be anything you want."

“Mom, I’ve decided to be a pediatrician when I grow up.”
“Mom, can I be an astronaut?”
“Mom, can a girl become President of the United States?”

Hillary Clinton is adored by many, and she has her critics. But one thing that everyone clearly understands is that she is capable of leading this country and being President of the United States. For that I am truly grateful.

Thank you, Hillary, for the gift of the resounding YES YOU CAN that you have given to the daughters of this wonderful country.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

2008- The Year of Living Joyously

January 1,2008

We have claimed 2008 to be “THE YEAR OF LIVING JOYOUSLY,” ---

a command I enthusiastically embraced when Loren proposed it back in the fall. But now that it is January 1, 2008, the very first day of the year of living joyously, I am finding myself a bit befuddled about what we mean by this proclamation.
For example, how do I ensure that joy is a part of just today? I feel a sense of joy and well-being sitting in my “new” room with a hot mug of coffee and my morning crossword puzzle. Is that what we mean? Do I need to do something special each day to honor our commitment to joyful living? I felt joy in calling my seven year old grandson, Griffin, and leaving the message, “RABBIT RABBIT RABBIT RABBIT” on his answering machine. Should I go out and ask Loren if he would like waffles for breakfast? What is joy?

I looked up the derivation of the word, and it comes from the Latin for “rejoice.” In several conversations with friends over the past weeks, words such as “expansive, overflowing, exuberance, and uncontainable” have been offered to describe the feeling of joy. It seems, definitely, to be a superlative emotion – something intense, exaggerated; something that transcends the normal everyday human state. So perhaps, we need to “save” joy – to keep it special- perhaps joy, by its very definition, cannot be an every day occurence- for then it would be plebian and lose its luster.

Last week I read a very interesting article written by two professors of The Greater Good Center at Berkeley. The title of the article was “Teaching Gratitude,” and it made the connection between a child’s ability to feel grateful and his happiness. Christine Carter writes:
We need to teach our children to be grateful because American culture glorifies independence and undervalues how much others help. We see our blessings as hard-earned. One gratitude researcher, in a recent article for Greater Good magazine, describes a scene from The Simpsons: “When asked to say grace at the family dinner table, Bart Simpson offers the following words: ‘Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing.’” This sense of entitlement will not lead to happy lives. Pioneering social scientists think that 40% of our happiness comes from intentional, chosen activities throughout the day. Choose to be entitled, choose to be grateful—whatever you decide, it is going to influence your happiness. So why don’t more people choose thankfulness over cynicism and entitlement? I think we lack ways to talk about gratitude. My kids have picked up rich notions of what romantic love is from watching Disney princess movies, but probably couldn’t say a word about how Cinderella feels thankful for all her fairy godmother has given her or how she expressed that gratitude. We don’t talk much about good things that come from other people’s efforts, about the ways that our neighbors and coworkers and grandparents contribute directly to our own well-being.

I find this all so very interesting, but the part of the above quotation that I fixate upon is: “Pioneering social scientists think that 40% of our happiness comes from intentional, chosen activities throughout the day. Choose to be entitled, choose to be grateful—whatever you decide, it is going to influence your happiness.”

So, by inference, Christine Carter seems to be equating happiness (a kind of joy) with the ability to be grateful. Think ab
out it: when you say, “I am so grateful for such special friends,” or “What a gorgeous day it is,” or “This is the best meal I have had in ages,” aren’t we expressing joy? Just to be in the frame of gratitude requires a certain sense of contentment, happiness, and perhaps joy. To have control over 40% of my own happiness doesn’t seem too shabby!

I don’t mean to equate joy and gratitude; they are different emotions.
But it seems clear that we can certainly be in control of our feelings of gratitude while joy might be more dificult to call up at will. Perhaps what I am implying is that gratitude – something that we can feel daily for small and big things – might be a path to joy – that more elusive, heightened, rare experience. Do I want to go so far as to say without gratitude there can be no joy?

Today, January 1, 2008, Loren and I are planning to create a framed picture proclaiming 2008 – the Year of Living Joyously. We have a wall in our kitchen selected to display this picture. As I look at it daily, I hope to feel grateful. I’ll keep you in touch on the moments of joy that may follow throughout the year.