Ordinary People – Who are they?

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“India Rising — Prince of Thieves” acrylic on canvas

A man watched his depressed wife murder their two children and then hand the gun over to him so he could fulfill his part in their suicide pact. He shot his wife and then could not pull the trigger to end his own life.

Afterward, when neighbors were asked to describe this husband and father, now accused of murder, they shrugged and said “he was just an ordinary man.”

Ordinary people sometimes commit egregious acts. The problem is that we only see the outside shell. It is what goes on inside the mind and the heart that triggers a horrible incident. What did that “ordinary” man do in his spare time when he wasn’t working or socializing with the neighbors? Was he drinking too much or getting hooked on something stronger?

Was he feeding the fires of revenge and hatred? Was he depressed? Did he spend his alone hours watching pornography and indulging in sexual fantasies or sadism. As Emerson once said “We are what we think.” We cannot know someone completely if their secret thoughts and acts are hidden.

When someone snaps, it’s usually the result of a gradual descent into depravity, pain, or grief; an accumulation of events that eventually reach a boiling point or explosion. The internal poison and pain build up until it must either find an outlet or an escape valve. Without this release, under pressure, acts of violence against self or others may occur.

There are no ordinary people. We are all subject to trauma, evil and sin. We all experience emotional and physical pain. It is simply an inescapable part of life. How can society prevent suicide or acts of violence from happening? How can we keep our family, friends and neighbors from acting out and, instead, reach out for help and assistance?

We need to pay attention. If you haven’t seen a neighbor in awhile and you know they are home, seek them out to see if they are all right. Don’t worry about being “nosy.” Assume a caring attitude and offer help. Sometimes a simple thing like taking the children for an afternoon to relieve an overwrought and over worked mom is all that is needed.

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My neighbor Alice hadn’t seen me or my children for awhile. One day she showed up on my doorstep with a shovel and a start of a plant from her yard that I had admired. “I think you need some sunshine,” she quipped. “Let’s plant this start together – do you remember this?” She displayed the green leaves with the lavender spray of flowers.

As we planted, we talked. The sunshine not only warmed my body but my soul. I never told her what was bothering me, although she suspected postpartum depression since I’d just given birth to my fourth child a few weeks before. It didn’t matter. Her presence gave me the support and caring I needed and probably prevented me from doing something foolish.

As Rivvy Neshama wrote in her book “Recipes for a Sacred Life: True Stories and a few Miracles,” if we would just “look around and ask ourselves what is wanted? What is needed?” We might be able to prevent a tragedy in our own family or neighborhood.

Ordinary people look like you and me. They may even act like you and me. But the fact is that there is no such person. Each individual is unique and unrepeatable. Instead of trying to lump them together into a common understandable and repeatable entity, we should seek out the traits that make them different. Not for the purpose of dividing us, but to recognize the special qualities that define each of us.

If a red flag goes up or your gut instincts tell you something is wrong, heed the warnings. Don’t give your trust to just anyone. Trust must be earned. Canned phrases like “Muslims are peaceful people,” or blacks can’t be trusted” only add to your internal confusion.

Not everyone has your best interests at heart. Even “ordinary” people may intend harm. Learn to trust yourself. I know I’ve done it. I’ve talked myself into disregarding my gut instincts by saying things like “that’s racist,” or thinking that “just because he or she is Arab doesn’t make them a terrorist.” But what if they are? What if those warning vibes going off in your head are right and there’s a reason why they’re going off?

“Love thy neighbor” but make sure your neighbor has good intentions. As Ronald Reagan once said “Trust, but verify.”

Ordinary people deserve your good will, but looks can be deceiving. In this distressful and confusing world, kindness and friendliness are needed more than ever, but don’t be a fool. You only have one life to live and perhaps one chance to save it.

Consider your surroundings. Proceed with caution. And trust your internal antennae. Don’t throw caution to the wind because you’re ashamed of feeling uneasy in someone else’s presence. Protect your instincts first and act before it’s too late.

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“Broken” 11×14 mixed media (SOLD); prints available.

A Toss of Fate or a Game of Choice?

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“A Joyful Heart” 11 x 14 pastel on Bristol; Matted and ready to frame.

I bragged the other day to a friend “I haven’t had a cold in years.” Then out of the blue, I got that scratchy throat that turned into a cough that turned into full-blown flu. And I had a flu shot!

In addition to tempting fate, I seem to be famous for making statements of denial that turn into fact. “I’ll never marry a German.” An opinion voiced after living next door to a German neighbor who was not only in-your-face opinionated, but overpowering. Then out of my best judgement, I ended up marrying one. What on earth was God or reason trying to tell me?

After that marriage, I became acquainted with a florist who was Norwegian. His lack of customer relation skills and his know-it-all attitude made me comment to a friend “I’ll never marry a Norwegian.” But guess what? I did. And this marriage has been great!

I think the lessons amount to this. Ethnicity doesn’t have as much to do with relationships as a person’s attitude, personality, and upbringing. An honest person with a sense of humor can overcome almost anything.

Reggae Night

“Reggae Night” mixed media on canvas

Forgiveness, give and take, and patience can do a lot more to smooth a marriage’s rough patches than the place of our parent’s birth or culture. Outside influences are far less important than internal ones. The basic principles that make up who we are cast a longer shadow of importance than where we come from.

Of course, I’m looking back with wisdom from hindsight. In the middle of my forest of choices, I couldn’t see the obvious right in front of my nose. I missed the red flags waving in the wind and had to learn from my own mistakes.

When I was interviewing for a job, I always told the interviewer I was a “quick study.” I learned quickly on the job and was never afraid to tackle tough stuff. Would that I could say the same thing about life.

Most of us learn from our mistakes. We can’t see the future and we can’t read the tea leaves that later become clear. We plod along and do the best we can. If we’re lucky, we have a good friend or a mentor we admire. Some of us have our faith in God to guide us in our walk of darkness where we “see through a glass darkly.”

I think back to the sage advice I received from my parents but rebelled against in my youth. Had I hearkened to some of it, I could have saved myself a “X?/X!! load” of grief.  But here’s the rub. If you don’t learn from your mistakes, you’ll keep repeating them over and over again.

When you reach the end of your life, do you want to leave with a list of regrets? Knowing that you did the best you could will provide a peaceful exit. And let’s face it. You were born with a time-dated stamp that eventually expires. Join the club!

Belly Dancer

“Belly Dancer” 11 x 14 acrylic on canvas

The Ghosts of Halloween’s Past – the Devil is in the Details!

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Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

On Halloween night at our house, I made a big pot of chili that the children were too excited to eat. When they returned from “trick-or-treat” with their father in tow, they had to down a few bites before they were allowed to dive into their candy.

After six children and many Halloween celebrations under my belt, we ended up with a large costume box filled with various themes and sizes. The box was a big hit with neighborhood friends and provided hours of entertainment all through the year.

The old Raggedy Ann and Andy costumes my husband and I wore to an adult party were in there plus the simple white pillowcase with cutout eyes and a cottontail glued to the rear. Ears were tied with string and could become a rabbit or a sheep depending on how tall the toddler was and how long the ears.

at Stone Mountain in Georgia

at Stone Mountain in Georgia

Once I became a Geisha girl using a silk Japanese robe my son had given me. I wound panty hose around a 1960’s fur hat and turned it into black towering hair. After my face was painted white and makeup had been applied, I finished my “look” with white stockings and black platform thongs. My friend said that was either the ugliest costume she’d ever seen, or the best one there; she couldn’t decide which.

As a youth teacher and leader, I disliked Halloween events. When children or teens hide behind a mask you never know what kind of demon is going to emerge. Many a tyrant was born on Halloween night when they thought others couldn’t see who they really were.

Adrianne and Jaidan

Adrianne and Jaidan

Many people go through life wearing disguises of one kind or another. They hide behind a false front and then take off their mask when in their own familiar surroundings.

We all try to make a good impression and put our “best foot forward.” We want people to like us. But there comes a time when the masks either come off willingly as people try to gain intimacy or the disguise is revealed painfully later on. The adage “better late than never” doesn’t work in this case. In relationships the “sooner the better” is always best.

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In your interactions with others watch for these red flags:

  • Outbursts of anger or temper tantrums. The person’s mask sometimes slips to reveal these important inconsistencies. They may apologize profusely and have convincing arguments for their behavior, but trust your own gut instincts. If the other person is covering up an uncontrollable temper, imagine the fireworks when the mask comes off permanently!
  • Irrational behavior. Tirades, spending or eating binges that come out of nowhere may be deep-seated and bubble to the surface when a hot button is pushed. This person may have emotional issues that are way out of their control and probably yours.
  • Public outbursts. If causing a public scene doesn’t bother them, then erratic loud behavior in private may be the “norm.” When their own actions don’t embarrass them, nothing you can say or do will make any difference. If you dislike public displays, make a fast exit from this person.
  • Treatment of other people. How they treat their mother or other close relatives may tell you a lot about their history and habits. If they treat strangers and outsiders better than those who are close, beware! This type is a performance artist always looking for applause and admiration. Around family they really let their hair down. Courtesy and thoughtfulness go right out the window.
  • Beliefs and values are out of step with actual behavior. Some people brag about being honest yet they look for every excuse to justify cheating, slipping into a second movie theater without paying, covering up a mistake or blaming it on someone else.
  • Possessiveness that requires an accounting.  “Why didn’t you call?” “Where were you when I called?” Who were you talking to just now?” You’re constantly bombarded with questions from this insecure type. They doubt your answers. They want to control your time, your friends, even your relatives. They smother you with affection, but it’s just another means of control. They want you all to themselves. Your life, your needs, your wants suddenly become smaller and smaller until you disappear altogether.
  • The green-eyed monster disguised as love. “Were you flirting with him?” “I saw you smile.” “Your line was busy for 30 minutes! Who were you talking to?” As the song goes: “Every move you make, every turn you take, I’ll be watching you.” When the mask finally comes off, it becomes obvious the only person they love is themselves. With this jealous man or woman you’ll feel guilty even when you’re not. You can’t do anything right. Being human is a sin.
  • A raised fist, a not-so-gentle jab may just be the beginning. Physical abuse is escalating behavior. In the beginning it may start with shouting and name-calling. Eventually the threats turn into action. If you see a glimpse of this when the mask is still on you’d better watch out! When they’re in their comfort zone they may take the velvet gloves off.

Watch out for those red flags, not only on Halloween, but every day of the year. When the smile and boasting phase is over and the disguises come off, be sure you don’t end up with a real goon or a ghoul!

Trust should be Earned not Given Away!

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Who do you Trust and Why? Do you give your trust away to just anybody because they have a nice smile or they seem sincere?

I used to think that I could trust the FDA or their acclaimed messengers who tell us what not to eat, what to drink, and what to wear. You know, the messengers of doom and gloom. Well not anymore!

Remember when eggs were bad for you? They were supposed to increase cholesterol and add bad fats into your bloodstream. Some people still believe that yarn. They refuse to eat eggs and continue to eat egg substitutes that are not as healthy for you.

Then the truth came out. Eggs are actually good for you. Since part of the brain is made up of cholesterol, the vitamins and fats in eggs are healthy and needed (as long as you eat only one a day). Oh, how the food police love to control what you eat and how much!

I may not have the proper jargon, and I’m not a nutritionist, but I recognize the red flag for “regulation” when I see it. If the government can regulate it, they can tax it.

Take the latest fear mongering episode: “antibacterial gels may be bad for your health and may not eliminate all bacteria.” If that’s not enough to put the fear of death and disease into every mother’s heart, I don’t know what is.

Like a true believer, I examined my bottles of germ exterminator for the sinister “t” ingredients. Then it occurred to me that this was just another contrived ploy. J.Q. Public was being manipulated, once again, into ignoring and perhaps celebrating the new regulation that is sure to eliminate these evil “t’s.”

So what if the price goes up and the government adds to its coffers as long as my children are protected? We’re either scared into or shamed into compliance. The problem is the frequency of the scare tactics are beginning to sound a lot like the firing of a machine gun. The repetition is grating and sounds hollow, and the message content is starting to smell, too.

Instead of helping society solve problems, people are beginning to shut down and ignore the numerous warnings. I for one don’t listen to their advice (their meaning the government, the advertisers, and the regulators). I know if I wait another few months, the threat will either go away or it will change. What was bad for us last year, or even yesterday, is now good for us. If we are patient enough, the problem will just disappear.

This is not the way to get people to wake up and listen! Remember the color-coded threat levels after the 9/11 terrorist attacks? When the threat level went from orange to red, did you change your behavior? Did your life style morph into one of submission and fear, or did you continue your daily routines without interruption?

We all reach a boiling point; an irreversible mindset that simply cannot take any more. People are becoming shell-shocked. We’re getting a barrage of conflicting information and we’re on overload. It seems that the regulators, the government, and the panic police have cried “wolf” once too often. It’s time to revolt, people! We either stand up for the freedom that our forefather’s fought for, or we cower in the dust and let our fears overtake us.

The majority used to rule; now a vocal minority has taken over the airways and is demanding to make our decisions for us. Through bombastic pronouncements, they are taking away free speech (except for themselves), personal freedoms and the right to worship. They have pushed political correctness into ridiculous realms and attacked the very values and principles that made this country strong.

The bad medicine they prescribe for us should not to be taken. Instead, we must take up pen, and voice, and our power at the voting booth (perhaps even in the streets) until we prevail.