A Monster Calls

Do you ever get surprised by a movie or book? You did not expect to like it, but it touches your core. The movie “A Monster Calls” fits into this category.

The movie stars Felicity Jones as a divorced mother of a boy, Conor, who is bullied at school, but has anger issues, the source of which are revealed as the movie develops. Conor is played by Lewis MacDougall who does a wonderful job revealing his angst, which is far more than the bullying.

Conor loves to draw like his mother and is quite imaginative. He awakens each night at 12:07 am to a monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) who evolves out of an old tree Conor can see from his window in a field near a church. The monster teaches him parables, one each night, with one requirement. Conor must tell him a key truth when he is done with all of his lessons.

I will leave the summation at that. Sigourney Weaver plays his grandmother who has a hard time understanding her artistic daughter and grandson. Weaver does an excellent job in her role, as she must come to grips with her own angst and get closer to her daughter and grandson.

Give the movie a chance and don’t let the title turn you away. You may want to have a Kleenex close by, just in case. The simple truth may touch your core.

If you have seen it, tell me what you think. If you have not, you may want to avoid reading the comments. What other movies or books surprised you?

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Be not afraid – a memorable hymn

We attended a funeral today for the father of my daughter’s friend who passed way too early at age 53. Growing up Catholic and singing harmony with her father in a small church, my wife recognized immediately the encouraging hymn “Be not afraid” that the congregation was asked to sing.

I knew this would be both memorable and melancholy for my wife as she sang it beautifully next to my whispering voice. She and her father sang well together. Here are the words, crafted by English author Alfred J. Hough, which are poignant next to the beautiful music of Charles Hutchinson Gabriel.

“You shall cross the barren desert but you shall not die of thirst
You shall wander far in safety though you do not know the way
You shall speak your words in foreign lands and all will understand
You shall see the face of God and live

Be not afraid, I go before you always
Come follow me and I’ll give you rest

If you pass through raging waters in the sea you shall not drown
If you walk amidst the burning flames you shall not be harmed
If you stand before the power of hell and death is at your side
Know that I am with you through it all

Be not afraid, I go before you always
Come follow me and I’ll give you rest

Blessed are the poor, for the Kingdom shall be theirs
Blessed are you that weep and mourn for one day you shall laugh
And if wicked men insult and hate you all because of me
Blessed, blessed are you

Be not afraid, I go before you always
Come follow me and I’ll give you rest”

Whether you are religious, the words offer a great example of the comfort that be gleaned at a time of grief and need. These hymns are mileposts in our lives and can remind us of earlier moments. To me it reminded me of the times my wife would rehearse on Saturday evening with her father and perform in the church service the next day.

“Be not afraid” are comforting words. I hope they were for my daughter’s friend and her family.

 

It is your call on whom to marry

I was fortunate that my future wife asked me to meet her for a drink after work. Yet, before that happened, two of her friends counseled her that I was not for her. We have been married for over 32 years now.

Often, it is the parents who stand in the way of matrimony between their child and his or her chosen partner. While I am sure some disastrous pairings have been averted or delayed until a better time, it is not the parents’ decision and often they are wrong in their initial assessment.

I have a relative whose parents did not want him to marry a young woman. In an all too common rationale, they deemed her unsuitable due to relative standing on the socio-economic strata. They have been married now for over 40 years and are parents and grandparents.

I have a friend whose parents felt the same about his future bride. In this case, the rationale was she was older and had a child. My friend and his wife have been married longer than we have and are now grandparents.

Yet, my favorite example are some friends who were not allowed to be married when they were young and in love. She was the daughter of a Protestant minister and he was Catholic. Religious differences are an all too common reason to deny marriage. These friends each married other people and had families. After they each divorced and a few years had passed, the young lovers got back together and married each other. They have been married now for 30 years and seem to still enjoy their renewed affection.

For matters of the heart, it is your call. Everyone else may advise you, welcomed or not, but it is your call on whom to see and be married to. I do recognize that a teen living under the parents’ roof needs to listen to parents’ counsel, whether you heed it or not. They do see things you may not. But, as you get older and are about to make a commitment, at the end of the day, it is your commitment, not theirs.

So, parents should counsel wisely and judiciously. Yet, the best we can do is teach our children good values and encourage thoughtful decisions. But, it is their life to live, especially when they make that important step of choosing a life partner.

A man won’t be shot while doing the dishes

Staying married takes effort. The same could be said about any relationship. If you don’t work at it, it won’t last. The title is a funny, but true metaphor that will keep you married – if you do the dishes, even if only periodically, you at least will survive another day and not get shot. There are two messages in this saying – share the load and keep your sense of humor. Since we need a break these days, let me focus on the humor.

Comedian Tom Arnold had the funniest line which seems to apply to our household. When asked by the women on “The View” about how long does a physically romantic interlude last, he replied “thirty minutes.” When the women were surprised at his answer, he clarified, “yes, five  minutes of foreplay, five minutes of sex and twenty minutes to get all the pillows off the bed.” My wife and I roared with this answer as we have so many decorative pillows that take up more than 1/2 the bed.

Speaking of beds, in our house the last one up makes the bed. I sincerely try to make up the bed like my wife does, but apparently I fall short of perfection. My wife sighs and then pulls, smoothes and tugs to remedy my effort. My guess is my female readers who are or have been married are nodding yes as they read this. My wife tends to arise later, so it may this very reason. Or, it could be the first one up has to feed the cat and dog, make the coffee and get the paper.

There is one more chore with the cat, who we found out is diabetic last spring. He is doing well, but each morning and evening, we have to give the cat insulin. So, a common question in our house is strange, “Did you shoot the cat?” He will often come to us after eating and we will pet him, then give him his insulin. Yet, he will sometimes vamoose if he senses something is up or if the dog chases him away. Herding a cat is an art form.

The sense of humor thing keeps us honest. We often laugh at ourselves and feel open to teasing. Watching shows and movies are always interesting if they have a sad event. I will tear up with any scene where a parent/ child moment occurs over a tragedy or reunion. My wife will ball over any extended illness scene having lost her brother to Leukemia. So, we tend to tease each other about our sappiness. My wife likes to joke how I try to tactically wipe a tear away without her noticing, which I usually fail to achieve. I will asking “are you crying?” “No,” is often her answer through tears.

Share the load, laugh a lot. And, a well placed hug or caress never hurts

 

 

 

The first missed anniversary

In late August, the 66th anniversary of my parents wedding occurred. Yet, it was the first one that neither parent was alive. My mom passed away last Christmas morning. Being a religious woman, it is somehow fitting she left us that day.

My dad passed away just over eleven years ago. We still miss his laughter and love, but have gotten used to him being gone. They were married just shy of 55 years before he died having met at Berry College in Rome, Georgia.

Mom’s memory had been on the decline for several years, as she was diagnosed with a progressive memory disorder, most likely Alzheimer’s. On the phone, she knew I was her son, but in person she often mistook me for her husband as I look like my dad did when he was my age. She often thought my sister was her older sister Betty.

They were a loving couple that endured each one’s imperfections. Young folks are looking for the perfect match, but there is no such person. We are all fixer uppers. So, couples teach each other how to coalesce.

Both my parents were smart. My mom became a teacher working primarily with first or second graders. After she retired, she was a devoted bible study fellowship leader. My dad started in the grocery business, but migrated to a new profession called data processing. He used to take me to the elevated computer room which was quite cool. I remember the tape readers were as large as refrigerators.

My brother, sister and I were blessed to have such wonderful parents. They loved and supported us, even when we hated being pushed out of bed to attend Sunday school. Thanks for everything Mom and Dad.

Two Anniversaries

My bride and I celebrated 32 years of marriage this week. I think she gave up on trying to fix me up, so she is stuck with what she got. Kidding aside, my wife is easily the best half of us. She is “the girl who holds the world in a paper cup,” meaning she is as genuine as they come.

My wife likes to say we are friends first, when asked about our longevity. The friendship carries us through the ebbs and flows of the relationship. The other is keep a sense of humor. We often laugh at ourselves and can tease each other. Life is too short not to laugh more.

I had another anniversary this week. I passed ten years without a drink of alcohol. The cravings are far fewer and less intense, but they linger back there somewhere. My daughter asked me about my drinking habits as I made her and my wife aware of the anniversary as we traveled. It stunned them by the amount I drank, but at least I did it at home.

The key lesson I learned early in my abstinence is to say the following mantra, “I am not going to drink today.” This is a key reason recovering alcoholics know the number of days. Another piece of advice is to find a substitute – mine were green tea, fruits, fruit juices, popsicles or sorbet. The cravings will remain, you just need to drink or eat something else.

So, let’s toast with your beverage of choice (or necessity) to laughter, love and sobriety, at least for those who must abstain.

 

I believe in you

These are very simple words, but they are extremely powerful when used. “I believe in you” can make a huge difference in performance, whether it is at work, at home or at play. A real life example may help, but I have changed the name of the individual to protect the identity of the person.

Sandy has worked in retail for many years at the same small store. She is a solid contributor, very pleasant to customers and quite loyal. While Sandy is not the best employee in the store, she is very reliable and is often called in when others cannot work their scheduled slot. Only rarely does she say no, as she needs the hours.

Like many retailers, this store is pushing cross-selling at the register. And, like many stores, they also have a phone application where customers can find answers to questions and guideposts on their own. Sandy, hates cross-selling as she knows many of their customers are return ones and don’t need to be invited to buy, but she is obligated to make offers.

Sandy was not performing well under stretch store measures, as the retailer was in financial trouble. The application sales were critical as they provided recurring revenue. The cross-sell push was strong and it made her feel quite uncomfortable. Her manager was stressed and made her stress known to Sandy and others. As a result, Sandy felt threatened and it affected her work, psyche, and health. Her scheduled hours suffered and her boss was hyper-critical of her. She considered other employment.

And, then the stress went away. An old boss who knew Sandy and what she was capable of, replaced the stress-causing boss who was asked to leave. Sandy was not the only one who felt the extra tension. The returning boss “believed in” Sandy and gave her room and opportunity. Sandy sold more of the applications and gained greater comfort in cross-selling without being too intrusive. And, her scheduled hours went up.

The boss who left openly and caustically shared her displeasure with others. Sandy is far from perfect, but the stress causing boss, created the circumstances for less fruitful performance. The returning boss knew how to lead and manage. She believed in her workers even while giving them high goals. This belief enabled Sandy to perform at a much higher level and the results showed.

“I believe in you.” Leaders can make a difference with these words. Not every employee is an “A” employee. Any team is a mixture of different skills and capabilities. A leader will provide the necessary amounts of management and encouragement. They will know when to step on the accelerator or ease off and tap the brakes. Good leaders are few and far between, but each manager can be a little better at leading. The results might be staggering, if they do.